The Amazon rainforest is being ravaged by flames. Soot from thousands of wildfires has blackened skies across Brazil, and the smoke is even visible from space. Brazil’s Environmental Minister Ricardo Salles has been using Twitter to give updates on the devastating fires, writing in one tweet that “dry weather, wind and heat” were to blame for their spread.
Environmentalists, however, say humans are the root cause of the fires devastating the Amazon.
Amazon Watch, a group that works to protect the rainforest and the indigenous people of the Amazon, says farmers have been setting forests ablaze to create pastures. Farmers and ranchers have been emboldened to do so by the government, said Amazon Watch program director Christian Poirier.
“The unprecedented fires ravaging the Amazon are an international tragedy and a dangerous contribution to climate chaos,” Poirier said in a statement on the group’s website. “This devastation is directly related to President Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental rhetoric, which erroneously frames forest protections and human rights as impediments to Brazil’s economic growth.”
Poirier says the president’s message allows farmers and ranchers “to commit arson with wanton impunity.”
This year’s record wildfires come as deforestation in the Amazon has been accelerating at a rapid pace. As CNET points out, the effects of damage reach far beyond Brazil and its neighbors, since the Amazon — known as the “lungs of the planet” — generates more than 20% of the earth’s oxygen and plays a key role in reining in climate change.
As farmers and ranchers encroach on the rainforest, the indigenous people who live there are being forced out.
Amazon Watch says farmers coordinated a “Fire Day” protest to set the Amazon ablaze. “We need to show the president that we want to work and the only way is deforesting. It’s to create pastures by [clearing forest], and with fire,” a protest coordinator said, according to Amazon Watch.
About 73,000 fires have been detected by Brazil’s space research center INPE, according to Reuters. It’s a record number — and an 83% increase compared to last year.